Epic DC Summer Bucket List: 50 Free or Cheap Outings for Kids and Families!

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2023 Epic Summer Bucket List!

Are you ready for fun and free (or cheap) summer fun in 2023? Enjoy our thorough guide with 50 local, kid-friendly excursions we’re putting on our Epic DC Summer Bucket List. Even better, many of these fun outings are free.

DC summer fun
Put a visit to the National Zoo on your DC summer bucket list. You can meet DC’s most famous pandemic baby, panda Xiao Chi Ji. Photo by Allison Winter

The DC area has no shortage of fun activities for families. Summer boredom should not be a problem here! Start planning your summer adventures!

Use #DCMomsSummer23 to share what you have checked off your list. We may end up featuring your family on our DC Area Moms Instagram Feed (with your permission, of course!).

50 Fun Adventures for an Epic 2023 DC Summer Bucket List

  1. Two words: baby animals. Delight in animal cuteness at the National Zoo, a great summer destination. You can see DC’s most popular pandemic baby, Xiao Qi Ji, and the two new adorable Andean bear cubs. Bring water shoes to enjoy the splash pad on the American Trail! Reserve free entry passes or parking passes in advance to enter the zoo.
  2. There’s no place like Watkins Regional Park in Maryland for a magical outdoor summer day.  Enjoy a working farm, mini-golf, or a miniature train through the woods. There is also a Wizard of Oz themed playground with giant red shoes for fantastic free summer fun!
  3. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is back! Enjoy this fun, free celebration of culture and food on the National Mall. This year the festival celebrates living religious communities in the United States and the Ozarks! June 29-July 4 and July 6-July 9.
  4. Get lost in a field of sunflowers at McKee-Beeshers wildlife management area, a free Maryland park that blooms with fields of gold in mid-July. Note: this is NOT a stroller friendly location!
  5. Roll through Rock Creek! Take the kids for classic free summer fun on a scooter or bike ride through Rock Creek Park. Upper Beach Drive is closed to traffic, making it an excellent spot for kids to bike, scooter, or skate without fear of cars. The road gets pretty busy with runners and fast cyclists on weekend mornings, but there is plenty of room for wobbly riders to try out new skills on weekdays.
  6. Giddy up! Rock Creek Park pony rides are back! Schedule a ride at the Rock Creek Park Horse Center. This also makes a great gift for kids!
  7. Take a dip at DC’s delightful wading pool and fountains at Yards Park, a shallow pool and splash fountain with views of the city and the Anacostia River.
  8. Then split a sundae at DC’s own Ice Cream Jubilee (301 Water St SE and 1407 T St NW).
  9. Splash dance! Free summer fun is also flowing again at the other splash parks in the region!  Check out some of our favorites in our Guide to Spray and Splash Parks Guide

    Museum summer fun for kids

  10. Spot some inspiring art. The Smithsonian’s Hirshorn Museum has free activities for kids every Thursday morning at their art car. Or get free timed passes to the immersive infiinty rooms by Yayoi Kusama. This special exhibit has been extended until July 16, 2023.
  11. Blast off at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. Part of the museum reopened this year after an extensive renovation. Check our guide for tips on exploring this museum with kids- from the pinball machine to the planetarium.
  12. Or fly over to the massive hangars that make up the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s other campus at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles airport. Check out gobs of aviation and space artifacts—including real airplanes and a space shuttle—on display in spacious, air-conditioned hangars. Free admission but you will need to pay for parking.
  13. Roar into summer with our dino-mite guide to one of the most stunning exhibits on the National Mall, the new fossil hall at the Natural History Museum.
  14. Or flutter upstairs to be filled with wonder inside the butterfly pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History. Tickets are free on Tuesdays!
  15. Cool your toes in the indoor stream flowing through The National Portrait Gallery atrium. Eat lunch in the atrium, visit the hall of presidential portraits and check out the “Champions” exhibit of sports champions.  Admission is free!
  16. Build DC summer fun with a LEGO exhibit! The National Building Museum’s new summer exhibit, Brick City,has LEGO constructions to admire and bricks so visitors can play and create. View LEGO streetscapes from all seven continents, create your own masterpieces in a building areas, or add to a “graffiti wall” of piexelated art using toy bricks. Tickets required.
  17. Make your own stamps and avoid the crowds that often gather at other Smithsonian museums with a visit to the National Postal Museum. Admission is free!
  18. Come face to face with history at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum requires free timed passes for entry.  Try for passes online 30 days ahead of time, or vie for some of the same-day passes that are released each morning.

    Take it outside

  19. Get some mud therapy in the children’s garden at the US Botanic Garden, now open again for visitors! The outdoor garden is a beautiful place for children to play and explore. Kids can dig, water plants, climb, and run through a tunnel of mist. Moreover, you can head indoors to admire plants in climate-controlled conditions. Admission is free.
  20. Need more plants plus lots of space to run? We’ve got you covered at the FREE National Arboretum in NE DC. It has 446 acres of land and an excellent youth garden.
  21. Make friends with farm animals. DC might be more famous for its museums and monuments, but the region also has a wealth of farms and petting zoos. Your kids can get up close and personal with cows, chickens, and farm history at Frying Pan Park in Virginia, or Oxon Hill Farm National Park and the Agricultural History Farm Park in Maryland. All three are free!  For a fee, you can also see exotic animals and feed farm animals at Leesburg Animal Park or Roers Zoofari.
  22. Berry-stained hands are the best summer look! Kids can pick their own berries at one of the many family-friendly farms near DC. Check out our U-Pick and Farm Fun guide for some local favorites.
  23. Grab a picnic and watch the planes fly into DCA from Gravelly Point for some unique DC free summer fun. (Warning – it can be loud for babies!) If you have strong cyclists in your family, you can take the bike path there. Parking is free.
  24. Bloom at one of DC’s hidden gems, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, during its peak summer bloom of water lilies. Admission is FREE! The park hosts a Lotus and Water Lily Festival in July.
  25. Set your summer soundtrack for the long summer nights with FREE outdoor concerts. Our favorites include the Friday night jazz at the Sculpture Gardens (reserve free tickets in a lottery), family-friendly Friday concerts at Yards Park, and the longstanding tradition of summer concerts at Fort Dupont Park.
  26. Or enjoy outdoor music at an Arlington institution! Arlington’s Lubber Run Amphitheatre has hosted free summer concerts since its inception in 1969. The Lubber Run Summer Concert Series is back this summer.
  27. Wish upon a star! Local astronomy clubs host events each month to give the public a closer look at space. You can peer in their fancy telescopes with the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club.
  28. Dive into summer at your local public pool! Some of our favorite DC public pools: Francis Pool (great for kids), Banneker (Olympic-sized adult pool and sizable kids’ pool), and Rosedale Pool (one word: waterslides). All DC Pools are free for residents or require a small fee for non-DC residents.
  29. Chugga-chugga-choo!-choo! You can chuff through a summer day riding on one of the region’s many sweet miniature trains. Parks in Virginia and Maryland offer train rides all summer long. Check our really useful list here.
  30. In a city like DC, summer nights are sometimes best punctuated by herald trumpets and cannons. Take your kids to the U.S. Army’s FREE Twilight Tattoo on Wednesdays at Ft. Meyer in Arlington, VA. The U.S. Army Band plays music, and troops re-enact some scenes from famous battles in American history. (Warning: the cannons are LOUD.)
    DC summer fun
    Tee up for summer fun at Haines Point, DC’s miniature golf course along the Potomac River.

    Explore the islands (of DC)

  31. In search of that island life? We’ve got islands right here in DC! Go for a hike and look for birds on Roosevelt Island on the Potomac River.
  32. Or hike, bike, fish, and bird-watch on the beautiful Kingman & Heritage Islands on the Anacostia for some special free summer fun.
  33. Row, row, row your boat! You can rent a canoe or kayak on the Anacostia or Potomac River and enjoy life on the river in DC.
  34. Take a FREE educational boat or canoe tour of the Anacostia River with either Anacostia River Keepers or Anacostia Watershed Society.
  35. Hit the (miniature) links! Play a round on the oldest continually operating mini-golf course in the country at DC’s Hains Point. Read our post about this charming DC gem (which has become my annual birthday family outing).
  36. Take a free water jitney ride from Haines Point to the DC Wharf for a summer resort vibe right here in DC.
  37. Enjoy docks, boats, sunshine, and food at the District Wharf. Eat seafood on the pier or play with your kids on the free, giant, outdoor board games. The Wharf hosts free outdoor summer movies every Thursday evening this summer.
  38. Or roll on over to the only roller skating rink in the National Park ServiceAnacostia Park Skating Pavillion has free skate rentals all summer!
  39. Climb the sleeping giant statue and enjoy some free summer fun at outside events at National Harbor! Check out free movies and concerts, or free Kids Day on Thursdays, with family friendly activities.
  40. Go fish! Cast your line at Diamond Teague Recreation Dock for Friday Night Fishing, a free program Anacostia Riverkeepers host every Friday from June 23-August 25, 5 pm to 8 pm.
    DC summer fun
    Anacostia Boat Tour

    Your ticket for summer fun (tickets required)

  41. Come for the performance, stay for nature at the Children’s Theatre in the Woods! Nestled in the forest of the Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts in VA., this small outdoor amphitheater hosts dance, music, puppetry and more. After some shows, enjoy a free Junior Ranger activity. We like to bring a picnic and make a day of it, we rock out with music and then rock out throwing pebbles in the stream.
  42. Cruise into a drive-in movie at DC’s Drive-In at Union Market. You can buy food and snacks from the market’s vendors and watch films on the building’s facade. Carless viewers can buy a ticket and watch from blankets or chairs. The drive-in operates the first and third  Friday of the month through July.
  43. Put summer on ice! When the heat and humidity have you saying “I can’t even with you,” flip the seasonal switch. Take the kids to an indoor ice rink! There are open skates throughout the summer at Kettler Iceplex in VA, and Wheaton and Cabin John Ice Rinks in MD. Kettler has a fun “recess skate” for younger kids and check the Maryland rinks for cheap “parent and tot” sessions. Register in advance online.
  44. Watch a puppet show and ride the historic carousel at Glen Echo Park. The Puppet Co. has some shows geared especially for tiny tots.
  45. Take them out to the ball game! The Nationals have a fun playground for kids inside the ballpark. And for sweet baby relief, an air-conditioned nursing lounge for mamas.  Most Sunday games conclude with a free opportunity for kids to run the bases. Check out our tips for taking kids to a baseball game.
  46. GOAL! Score with your kids at a DC United Soccer game. Check out our tips to enjoy DC United as a family, from our ultimate soccer mom, Tatiana.
  47. And enjoy the beautiful game with our hometown champion National Women’s Soccer League team, Washington Spirit!
  48. Some pig! Milk a cow, check out the radiant pigs in competition,, ride a Ferris wheel, and eat a funnel cake at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair August 11-19.
  49. Or meet up for the rides, performers, and live music at one of the largest free events on the east cost, the Arlington County Fair in August.
  50. That’s fair! Did you know DC also has its own DC State Fair? It celebrates the District’s agriculture and artists with live music, demonstrations, workshops and competitions for best honey and heaviest vegetable.
DC summer fun
Kids can run the bases at most Sunday home games at Nationals Park.

Please share this epic, free or cheap DC Summer Bucket List with family, friends, and neighbors. We’d love to hear your favorite summer outings below!